A pōwhiri is a formal occasion and most people dress smartly and reasonably modestly. Traditionally women wear dark coloured skirts or dresses below the knee. We recommend you avoid shorts, short-skirts, and jandals.
Before a pōwhiri begins, the manuhiri gather at the waharoa (entrance), at the front of the marae. This is where the group waits to be called on to the marae. Women usually stand at the front, flanked by the men behind and to the sides.
The first voice you will hear on the marae is a woman’s voice – the karanga.
The karanga is a traditional skill that involves exchanging greetings, paying tribute to the dead (especially those who have most recently died), and referring to the purpose that has brought the two groups together.
An exchange of calls will take place between the tangata whenua and the manuhiri, with each side having their own kaikaranga (woman caller). This exchange of calls is a special moment that weaves together all realms of Māoridom at that moment in time. It has an important function in building connections between the two groups, and setting the agenda for the gathering.
The manuhiri enter slowly behind their kaikaranga, staying close together as a group, until they reach the seating arrangements. It is appropriate to pause halfway to silently acknowledge those that have gone before – our collective ancestors, friends and family.
When the manuhiri reach the seating area, everyone remains standing until motioned to sit.
Most pōwhiri take place on the marae ātea – the open space in front of the wharenui (carved meeting house). Generally tangata whenua and manuhiri will sit facing each other on opposite sides of the marae ātea during the pōwhiri.
The front row of seats on each side is the paepae, where the men performing speaking roles will sit. The other men sit in the rows behind them, and the women in the next rows.
The tangata whenua then begin the whaikōrero (formal speeches). Whaikōrero is the traditional art form of Māori oratory, using imagery, metaphors, whakatauki (proverbs), whakapapa (genealogy), karakia (prayers) and the retelling of history. Before colonisation, Māori was an oral language only, and the whaikorero was vital to pass down traditional skills and knowledge from generation to generation.
Tangata whenua and manuhiri each have their own kaikōrero (speakers), and the exact speaking order varies across different marae.
When each of the kaikōrero finishes their address, the people behind them will stand and sing a waiata tautoko – a song to support what they have said.
During the pōwhiri, the manuhiri will present a koha (gift or offering) to the tangata whenua, commonly a donation in a white envelope. The koha is a sign of reciprocity and acknowledgment of the hospitality of the tangata whenua.
For Māori, the pōwhiri embodies the perfect balance of roles between men and women. The right to perform the karanga and whaikōrero is bestowed on people who have earned that right over time.
When the whaikōrero end, the manuhiri will be invited to line up to hongi (press noses) and harirū (shake hands) with the tangata whenua. Traditionally, both male and female participants will hongi.
The hongi is the process of sharing the breath of life. After this, you are no longer manuhiri but are now part of the marae community.
After the hongi, everyone gathers in the wharekai (dining room) where the formal process of the pōwhiri is ended. The kai (food) is blessed with a karakia (prayer), and everyone has something to eat and drink. This brings the situation back to a state of whakanoa (normal), and lifts the tapu or sacredness of the formal process.